Victoria Dairy Farm, Payhembury - June 16th to 18th 2011

A farming family’s joys and pain were brought vividly to life though an original, Verbatim Theatre play staged in Payhembury in July 2011. The story of Hollyhayes was staged in an enormous barn at Victoria Dairy by kind permission of Douglas and Vera Daymond.

The barn
Rehearsal

The play was written by three local playwrights, Trevor Vanstone, Geoff Nicholson and John Somers. They drew extensively on over 40 interviews with local people connected with the world of agriculture – interviews managed by Victoria Robinson - and the storyline was based on an original idea by Trevor.

The play spans over 10 years at the fictitious but authentically drawn Hollyhayes Farm and tells the story of inter-generational pressures affecting the Craddock family as they battle with the vagaries of economics, politics, market forces and, of course, the weather.

Mary Craddock (Ali Bazley) and Jack Craddock (Richard Pulman)

When the Craddocks’ economist daughter Rose (Tilley Vanstone) is forced to return to the family home when her father falls ill she continues her research into the economic pressures affecting family farms and finds out first-hand what effect these can have. The assumed successor to Jack Craddock, his son, Ben (James Wakefield), a member of a heavy metal band, has a serious quarrel with his father and leaves home, not returning until after his father’s death.

The main storyline drew on knowledge acquired from the interviews, but extracts from the interviews were also used in the performance, spoken by community actors – four of them local farmers.

For TVCT Artistic Director John Somers the story was very close to home. Alongside a long career with Exeter University’s Drama Department, he has lived in the heart of the Tale Valley since the early 1970s and seen the farming scene change dramatically. In the hamlets of Lower and Upper Tale, there were seven farms in the 1960s. In 2012 there is just one.

John said: “The purpose of TVCT is to research and tell the stories of the community, by members of the community, staged in the community. This is even more important as change in the countryside quickens and these stories can be lost forever. This is what we have attempted to do by interviewing a range of people connected with agriculture in the locality, including those who turned away from it as a way of life. .The interviews were recorded and we will be using these recordings for the archive aspect of the project.

John and Alexandra Hancock at work on the set
Rose (Tillet Vanstone) and Mary (Ali Bazley)

The production sold out all 600 tickets in just over two weeks, testimony to the local interest in theatre which springs from and portrays relevant local issues.

If you want to discuss this project, John can be contacted on 01884 277390, 07934 611368 or at: J.W.Somers@exeter.ac.uk